Q: Is it a good practice to hold company information meetings for staff over their lunch hour, or should they be held only during company time?

A: Leaders bringing all staff together periodically to discuss business issues has long been considered a best practice. Depending on the size of the firm, they are held monthly, every other month or sometimes quarterly. Even with workforces increasingly dispersed around the country, leaders are utilizing technological solutions (video conferencing, webinars, blogs) to bring people together.

Leaders use all-staff meetings in a number of ways, especially as a means to:

  • teach employees about external influences impacting the business,
  • celebrate successes and recognize hard work,
  • explain upcoming changes and challenges,
  • maintain a sense of workplace unity,
  • ask for employee input and listen to their feedback, and
  • model what respectful and effective communication looks like.

Since you asked about the timing of company-wide meetings, we should state out front that there is no hard and fast rule. In today’s complex, fast-changing business environment, the successful workplace demands that managers and employees remain open, flexible and accommodating.

Having said that, most all-staff meetings where business issues are discussed and reported on are generally conducted during normal working hours. This sends a message that the information is serious business and that management really wants all employees to understand what is going on, values their input and is sensitive to not impinging on their time off work.

However, we don’t necessarily believe it is a problem if management wants to hold an informational meeting over employees’ lunch hour – once in a while. And, there may very well be extenuating circumstances that require this; for example, a time-sensitive problem occurs, an opportunity arises or complicated travel schedules.

But how employees respond to holding meetings over lunch depends upon with what their present culture is like. For example, I am familiar with a small firm whose culture is quite informal, creative and very collaborative. A few times a year, management sits down with their entire staff over lunchtime and mulls over and brainstorms around a business issue. As far as I can tell it is received quite well. These sessions are relaxed, chatty and can even be quite playful. I hasten to add that management at this firm always provides a tasty lunch for these occasions.

However, this may not play well in other settings and employees may indeed become resentful when their leaders expect them to frequently give up their lunch period for company business. It is a necessary and healthy reprieve for employees to have their own private time for lunch – to be alone, chat socially with coworkers, run errands or catch up on their favorite web sites.

So continue to have those all-staff meetings, but make them meaningful. Boring and un-engaging staff meetings are deadly. A few tips for keeping them fresh:

  • Lively, honest debates are stimulating. Generate as many as you can.
  • Make sure management does not do all the talking.
  • Make sure employees understand what you are talking about. (I was in an all-staff meeting at a government agency last year. An endless number of acronyms and jargon were being thrown around and it was clear many employees did not understand.)
  • Continue to communicate clearly how employees’ efforts impact the larger business goals.

Periodically, ask employees if the meetings are beneficial and what could be done to make them more useful.